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Short rules for aspiring writers from famous authors

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Sun Sep 12, 2010 4:45 am
napalmerski says...



Over here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/series/ ... or-writers

Here's two to start you off:

ELMORE LEONARD
1 Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2 Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but it's OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."

3 Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".

5 Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.

8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "Ameri­can and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story.

9 Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
**
MICHAEL MOORCOCK
1 My first rule was given to me by TH White, author of The Sword in the Stone and other Arthurian fantasies and was: Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.

2 Find an author you admire (mine was Conrad) and copy their plots and characters in order to tell your own story, just as people learn to draw and paint by copying the masters.

3 Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel.

4 If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction.

5 Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development.

6 Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution.

7 For a good melodrama study the famous "Lester Dent master plot formula" which you can find online. It was written to show how to write a short story for the pulps, but can be adapted successfully for most stories of any length or genre.

8 If possible have something going on while you have your characters delivering exposition or philosophising. This helps retain dramatic tension.

9 Carrot and stick – have protagonists pursued (by an obsession or a villain) and pursuing (idea, object, person, mystery).

10 Ignore all proferred rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say.
she got a dazed impression of a whirling chaos in which steel flashed and hacked, arms tossed, snarling faces appeared and vanished, and straining bodies collided, rebounded, locked and mingled in a devil's dance of madness.
Robert Howard




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Sun Sep 12, 2010 12:30 pm
Rosey Unicorn says...



Ah yes, I've seen those. Pretty cool.

I do, however, ignore the bulk of them. :P They're fine if you want to tryout a new style, but I find if you stick to them religiously than you're stifling your own creativity by now allowing the characters to write the story the way they want.

Interesting to experiment with, though.
You know you're a writer when you're not alarmed at hearing voices in your head, you can't read a book without analyzing it for plot & characters and you consider something you nearly killed yourself to write the most rewarding.

Guilty as charged.




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Tue Sep 14, 2010 6:35 pm
JabberHut says...



I think those are awesome, actually. Quite a few of those points napalmerski wrote out for us I already somewhat follow! *hasn't read the link [yet]*

Both of those authors seem to have left out the audience/reader though. If you're writing for teens, adults, uneducated, educated, etc. Then again, I find it kinda sad that the English language has dumbed down quite drastically over the past couple centuries, so. Maybe I find some of these points to back me up on that. (EDIT: I suppose I meant in comparison, not a constant decline. :P)

Anyway, there's still some great advice in there! They're not rules, of course. And really, one can't learn without trying it out first. So as Rosey said, definitely try to experiment with some of what they say, or keep an eye out while reading to see if they made a point. I know I do! :D
I make my own policies.




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Fri Sep 17, 2010 12:31 am
napalmerski says...



Yes, right, these should definitely be seen as advice, not rules:) For example everything inside me cries that the correct way to write is the opposite of what Elmore Leonard says, but rather what Moorcock says, haha.
Centuries? Jabba, I think Scott Fitzgerald for example is a 100% non dumb super lit, and is from only like 80 years ago :smt003 And the British cousins have even younger authors from just 40 years ago, like Kingsley Amis and Anthony Burgess, who are also 100% non dumb super lit. But I think that today any editor, agent or publisher would have a heart attack if one approaches even 30% of the levels of sophistication of the aforementioned authors. Perhaps one can cheat the system by first esablishing oneself as a normal dumbass so and so, and then gradually build up the language. And watch sales plummet, hahahahahahaha 8)
No, actually some writers... Dean Koontz for example has really built up his language in the last decade. Unfortunately this is also the time in which his plots and characters degenerated into near non-existence, but still, it goes to show that once you've proven yourself as one of the best, after a mere three-four decades you can start writing like your readers know how to read.
she got a dazed impression of a whirling chaos in which steel flashed and hacked, arms tossed, snarling faces appeared and vanished, and straining bodies collided, rebounded, locked and mingled in a devil's dance of madness.
Robert Howard




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Fri Oct 29, 2010 3:03 pm
UncleJimmy says...



I've heard some of these before, but never tried to apply any.




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Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:39 pm
fading-dream says...



Some just don't make sense. I personally see nothing wrong with using words other than said for dialogue. These are just what they like. I do have the agree about the adjectives though. I'm pretty sure the emotion should get shown through their words and actions.
Current Project: Otherworld (Novel) - 11,000 words so far
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Past stories: Burning Apart, The Beast, Binding Darkness - Ch. 1, What David Taught Me, The Banquette, Mirror of Memories, Leaving Humanity, Little Green Men, Six Days




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Wed Jun 15, 2011 5:54 pm
Dynamo says...



All this advice is good, but I feel there's a little more to making a good story that goes beyond simply how you write the story. For those of you interested, I made a similar thread on a few more broad tips on how to prepare yourself for making a good story, based on my own experiences: topic82592.html
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Thu Jun 23, 2011 12:24 am
Gahks says...



I'd contribute a quotation from the great playwright Samuel Beckett: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."
"Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself." William Faulkner.

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Mon Jan 09, 2012 7:11 pm
ArahAkachi1 says...



Some good tips since I've broken a few of these rules already (Oops!). I'll have to revise my novel and try to follow some of these rules. Thanks alot for the rules and for sharing them.
Writing your name can lead to writing sentences. And then the next thing you'll be doing is writing paragraphs, and then books. And then you'll be in as much trouble as I am!




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Mon Jan 09, 2012 8:21 pm
Rosey Unicorn says...



Arah, they're not true "rules". You can break as many as you darn well please and you're not doing anything wrong. They're more "guidelines" for what to do. If your novel works and you're breaking the rules, then it's just fine the way it is. :)
You know you're a writer when you're not alarmed at hearing voices in your head, you can't read a book without analyzing it for plot & characters and you consider something you nearly killed yourself to write the most rewarding.

Guilty as charged.




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Mon Feb 13, 2012 11:25 pm
hopeispeace says...



"Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary."

Thank you! I've been looking for someone who agrees with me on this. It's a distraction to what the character is actually saying. I once had a teacher who felt the need to read to us aloud, and she actually said once, "This author uses the word 'said' too much, so I'm going to change the word 'said' to something else once in a while." And she started throwing phrases in like " . . .he gasped excitedly" I was literally cringing in my seat. (Not to mention that the author was the mighty Suzanne Collins herself).
~HopeisPeace